Michael Meacock wrote (March 13, 2003): Jim Grayson [James Grayson, Westminster Records producer] told us when we had lunch with him in London - he stopped over on the way back from Vienna.
It seems Scherchen had this idea to record the B-minor Mass (BWV 232) with the orchestra, soloists and choir in a complete circle with him conducting from a podium in the center, and one single stereo mike hanging over his head. Great. It was all set up. Everyone in place. Then when it came to doing some trial takes, of course HS discovered that with everyone in a circle around him, he could only face half of them, the rest being behind his back. Oh. Things came to a standstill.
Then some bright technician got the idea of a revolving podium (yes really!) and managed to set it up. So HS conducted the whole of the Mass gently revolving on some kind of roundabout surrounded by choir, soloists and orch.
It's a great story in itself, but there were/are problems. Knowing the story, I can hear parts where HS thinks the tempo is a bit slow and tries to speed things up - he speeds the choir up then as his podium revolves to face the orch, they speed up too! We can hear it happening!
He was always one for innovation. In the days of mono he invented the frequency splitter. We had one. It split the sound into top and bass then fed into two speakers for early fake stereo. He was always very innovative at Beromunster too (early Art of Fugue for Decca), took a great interest in latest recording and mike techniques.
Mercury's 3-mic operas (1957-1963?) were recorded with the soloists and orchestra in front of Tullio ******* (I can't believe his last name is blocked!) or Gianandrea Gavazzeni, and the chorus arrayed behind, as you will find out if you play the CD's in surround with ambiance extraction.
And CBS/Sony did a number of sessions with a central podium when quadrophonic was new - the artwork on the Bartok "Concerto for Orchestra" reflects the NY Phil's circular seating around Maestro Pierre Boulez. But that was recorded with more than one stereo mic. Oh, yeah.
Recording, like many other fields which mix art and science, has seen many things tried, some of them now seeming ridiculous. When they work we consider them genius however. I am constantly amazed at some of the things which have been attempted by really serious folks who were on the bleeding edge of technology and innovation. And very grateful that some, even it is a tiny few, have worked.
I am old enough to remember when stereo came in. What a huge change that was. Now we have N.1 soundfields, Soundfield, Schoeps DMS, Grado is working on something in a ball which has promise. Tinkerers, engineers, dreamers and crackpots abound. And the artform progresses.